Ivy League Weekly Roundup: Dec. 29

What Happened Last Week: The Ivy League went 0-4 against major-conference competition, headlined by Columbia’s competitive loss to UConn and Harvard’s 56-46 defeat at Arizona State. But the Ancient Eight took care of everyone else, going 5-1 in its other games; Ivies have now won 10 of their last 13 games against mid-major opponents.

Three Thoughts:

Shonn Miller scored 50 points in two games against Siena and Saint Peter's. (Photo courtesy Cornell Athletics)
Shonn Miller scored 50 points in two games against Siena and Saint Peter’s. (Photo courtesy Cornell Athletics)

1. The Ivy League Player of the Year race has become more interesting in the past 10 days. While Wesley Saunders has slightly fallen off his otherworldly pace, two other stars have heated up: Shonn Miller, who has averaged 26 points over the last three games while leading Cornell’s defensive renaissance; and Maodo Lo, who scored 24 points on 15 shots in an entertaining battle with UConn’s Ryan Boatright. Saunders is still the PoY favorite, due to his all-around impact and supporting cast, but it will be a surprise if all three aren’t first-team All-Ivy selections.

2. After scoring a total of 73 points in 80 minutes at Virginia and Arizona State, Harvard’s Ivy dominance is being questioned by many. While their offense has real flaws and conference play won’t be a cakewalk, the Crimson are still favorites to reach a fourth straight NCAA tournament. Harvard has the Ivy League’s best defense (per KenPom’s adjusted efficiency, only George Washington and Green Bay are better among mid-majors), and in my opinion, it’s the least likely contender to be upset by a lower-tier opponent.

Coach Tommy Amaker can help the Crimson reach their potential by changing their starting lineup: Playing defensive specialist Agunwa Okolie is overkill alongside Saunders and rim protectors Kenyatta Smith and Steve Moundou-Missi. With sharpshooter Corbin Miller starting instead, Harvard will still get stops, and its offensive spacing will be much better. Okolie should only be used alongside offensively minded bigs such as Zena Edosomwan and Jonah Travis, or to spell Saunders in guarding top wings.

3. Brown is on a four-game win streak, including a victory over Providence, but I’m still becoming bearish on their outlook for Ivy play. The Bears’ shooting has held up surprisingly well after the graduation of All-Ivy guard Sean McGonagill, but one of his strengths was an ability to score with a low turnover rate. This season, Brown has committed turnovers on 25% of its possessions, including 21 giveaways at Central Connecticut and 18 against Sacred Heart. Every Brown regular has a turnover rate above 22%, save for Leland King (19.7%) — and all the resulting fast breaks drag down their defensive numbers. (Sacred Heart outran the slow Bears for 21 fast-break points on Sunday.)

Maybe those flaws will be minimized in the Ivy League, where few teams really push the pace off turnovers or defensive rebounds. But until the Bears stop giving away so many possessions, they won’t make too much noise in conference play.

Weekly Awards:

Player of the Week: Shonn Miller, Cornell — Miller had two monster double-doubles this week: 26 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Big Red over Siena, and 24 points and 11 boards in an overtime loss to Saint Peter’s. The senior took a bad fall early on against the Peacocks, but he came back and hit a three-pointer from the top of the key in the final minute to force overtime. Miller shut down Siena’s leading scorer, Rob Poole, and had three blocks against Saint Peter’s; his return is a big reason Cornell is edging toward the top 100 in KenPom’s defensive efficiency after ranking 350th a year ago.

Rookie of the Week: Kyle Castlin, Columbia — Castlin struggled against Connecticut, but his 12 points were instrumental to the Lions’ win over Colgate on Sunday. An established starter and a Rookie of the Year frontrunner, Castlin shot 5-8 against the Raiders, scoring 10 points after halftime to help the hosts pull away.

Looking Ahead: Three interesting New Year’s Eve games highlight this week’s schedule, as Princeton travels to Wake Forest, Brown takes on Rhode Island and Cornell plays at Syracuse. Yale visits Vanderbilt on Saturday in one of the Ivy’s last tests against major-conference opponents. All 10 Ancient Eight games this week will be played away from home.

Power Rankings:

  1. Harvard — Siyani Chambers has to improve, right? A Player of the Year candidate two years ago and a second-team All-Ivy selection last year, Chambers’ offensive rating against D-I opponents is now 75, worst among Ivy regulars (per KenPom). The point guard’s turnover rate has spiked to a career-high 28%, and he’s made a woeful 29% of his two-point attempts. Better offensive spacing would help open up his driving and passing lanes.
  2. Yale — Harvard’s offense is under fire at the moment, but Yale hasn’t torched opponents recently, either. The Bulldogs scored 45 points at Connecticut, 47 at Florida, 57 at Vermont and 60 against Albany, though all four games were slow-paced (57-59 possessions).
  3. Columbia — Columbia simply caught UConn on the wrong night. The Huskies have made just 31 percent of their three-pointers this season, but they went 9-for-16 on Monday, including several late daggers to pull away. Throw in several tough jumpers inside the arc, especially in the first half, and there wasn’t much the Lions could do.
  4. Cornell — In Sunday’s Cornell-St. Peter’s game, the final 2.3 seconds of regulation took 11 minutes of real time. I’m not usually bothered by the pace of play in close late-game situations, but with several timeouts and clock reviews, this ending was ridiculous.
  5. Princeton — The Tigers’ 65-47 win over Liberty featured a classic Princeton approach — they took 32 three-pointers and only 16 twos.
  6. Brown — In case you thought you had the Bears figured out, Brown is 1-1 vs. teams in Ken Pomeroy’s top 100, 2-2 vs. teams 101-200, and 3-3 vs. teams 201+.
  7. Dartmouth — After playing nine straight below-average opponents, the Big Green got a rude awakening at Penn State, as the Nittany Lions took a 41-16 lead into halftime. The schedule will remain tougher for Dartmouth, with a trip to Vermont and two dates with Harvard looming.
  8. Penn — The Quakers have had one of the nation’s 20 worst turnover rates in each of three seasons since Zack Rosen’s graduation. Tony Hicks commits a lot of miscues given his high usage rate, but he’s not alone; nearly every Penn regular has a turnover rate north of 20%.

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